Three Factors in Online Student Satisfaction

Students’ satisfaction with the online learning environment is an important part of their success. In a survey of students at Westmoreland County Community College (WCCC), Vickie Fry, division secretary in technologies/culinary art/mathematics/sciences, found that online students want the following:

1. Clear communication policies—The students were satisfied with communication from the instructor, regardless of frequency, as long as the syllabus clearly stated how frequently the instructor would communicate and the instructor followed the policy.

2. A regular schedule—Even though the courses in the study were asynchronous, many of the students followed a regular schedule. “They definitely want to communicate on at least a weekly basis. Most of the students don’t like it when courses are self-paced. We don’t allow that in our college, but some instructors tend to want to do that. They want to post all the information at the beginning of the semester and say, ‘Here’s what’s due by May 31.’ The students don’t seem to like that,” Fry says.
3. Updated grades—The students who were aware of their grades throughout the course were less likely to be dissatisfied with the final grade. “Most who were able to get feedback on their assignments at least weekly were satisfied with the grade they received and felt they had earned the grade they deserved,” Fry says.

Students in the survey who had taken at least one online course before were more satisfied with the online learning experience. “I reached the conclusion that if we can make these first-time online students satisfied with their first online course experience, then we have a pretty good chance of keeping them for subsequent online courses,” says Edwin Nelson, chair of computer technology and business at WCCC. “The first course they take is a weeding-out process for those students who think they are capable of learning online and then find out they aren’t. The key to student satisfaction is that very first experience they have online.”

One telling statistic from the survey was that 96 percent of first-time online learners felt that they were technically ready for the online classroom. Instructors were not as confident in the students’ capabilities. Just 49 percent of the instructors surveyed said that they felt that first-time online learners were ready.

WCCC does not require students to take an online learning preparation course. Instead, students are encouraged to take an online self-exam within Blackboard that helps prepare them to learn online. Those who take the self-exam are better prepared and therefore more satisfied with the online learning experience. Although a mandatory one-credit course would ensure that students are well-prepared to learn online, WCCC does not offer one, because it would interfere too much with the students’ schedules. “Particularly when they are in a sixty-credit associate degree program, students really don’t have room for an additional course,” Nelson says.

Excerpted from Three Key Student Satisfaction Factors, Online Classroom, May 2007.